Thursday 21 February 2013

Price vs Quality

Authored by Pete Hodgkinson

It’s Thursday night, I’m sitting with my father-in-law in a specialist unit for heart and lung patients in Liverpool. 4 hours ago he had a heart attack. Within just 90 minutes of the alarm being raised he was receiving what I would term as a major operation, but what medical staff referred to as a ‘fairly standard’ procedure in which they inserted a stent into a coronary artery to free a blockage.

Having previously worked for the NHS in purchasing I have experience of procuring items which varied from IT systems to medical products including stents. For those who do not know, stents are ultimately a mesh tube that is used to allow fluid to flow freely through what is an infected or blocked tube.

I have memories of meeting medical teams to discuss the merits of what constitutes acceptable products for all sorts of procedures. I do have one vivid memory though, when meeting a consultant to discuss a surgical implant, he said ‘well if price is the focus then you are putting the patient at risk’. His perception of procurement was a function focusing just on price regardless of merit.
Through engagement with the consultant and his team I am glad to say that it was quickly established that procurement can have a positive impact on cost but also other factors which will determine which of the options offers the greatest value.

There is the perennial conflict however, price vs. quality. Do you get what you pay for, or are there trade-offs that are acceptable? How do you measure and judge procurement on the requirement to meet a standard? 

I must admit, while sitting in the ward seeing my father-in-law recover, I couldn't help wonder if procurement had an impact on the stent that was allowing him to leave the hospital in 72 hours.

Perhaps in a later post I would like to discuss how, in my previous capacity as a Procurement Manager, I used techniques to overcome those perceptions of cost driven decisions; in the meantime I would love to hear from you though so please post your experiences...

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